PracticeAuditDon’t bypass accountants

Don't bypass accountants

It goes without saying that money laundering - whether connected with terrorism, drugs or organised crime (or indeed a combination of the three) - needs to be stamped out.

It is equally clear that accountants have a role to play. They are trusted and trustworthy advisers on financial matters and as such will often find themselves targeted by the unscrupulous looking to borrow legitimacy for their illegal transactions.

That said, there are concerns about the government’s Proceeds of Crime Bill, currently winding its way through parliament. The Chartered Institute of Taxation has already warned some measures may have ‘disastrous’ effects on people who have made ‘innocent’ errors in paying taxes by blurring the distinction between serious crimes and petty offences.

Now there are fears that the bill may ask rather more of accountants than of lawyers when it comes to disclosure. Lawyers, some fear, may be afforded greater rights over client confidentiality than accountants.

Were this to happen only launderers would benefit, as they would simply turn to lawyers rather than accountants wherever possible.

Of course much of this debate is no more than the rough and tumble of the legislative process demands. What are lobbyists paid for if not to fight for their client’s vested interests’

But there is a more serious point. A general tightening of the provisions is one thing, but to create an unlevel playing field for accountants and lawyers is altogether different.

It would be a retrograde step if, just as the profession is starting to get the status it deserves in the financial fight against terrorism with Gordon Brown’s pledge to appoint an accountant to lead the taskforce, accountants find themselves unable to do so because they are simply bypassed.

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